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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Reskinning Mechanics

One of my favorite activities of late has been taking existing game mechanics and reskinning them into something else. I was particularly inspired when I read this article a few months ago. It goes into some very cool examples of how simple reskins can have a profound effect on the feel of the game.

With that in mind, I began with some pretty minor reskins myself. I had an upcoming paranormal action game coming up, and hadn't decided what system to use. My players were familiar with D&D, but not much else. So, with my new fervor to try reskinning, I set to work.

The player with the cheerleader-turned-slayer wanted to focus on modern mixed martial arts, so I started with something easy. I reskinned the 1st-level maneuvers available to a swordsage from Tome of Battle: The Book of Nine Swords. Suddenly, that Buffy analogue could choose her moves from such categories as: dance karate, zen fu, sumo judo, ninjutsu, cage fighting, and bare-knuckle boxing.

Another player was interested in playing a MacGyver-esque, jack-of-all-trades troubleshooter. I immediately thought of the factotum class from Dungeonscape and set to work reskinning. The most intriguing challenge was changing the Wizard/Sorcerer spell list (which the factotum gets access to early on). I ended up with spells like "Blueprint App: Reveals hidden doors within 60 ft." and "Flashbang: Knocks unconscious, blinds, and/or stuns weak creatures." The most drastic change was to magic missile, which became traps! The mechanic stayed the same, but instead of lobbing a bolt of energy (or summoning the motes or firing the elf bow), the player would describe in detail a number of traps that they had set up earlier, like a scene out of Home Alone.

There's also another benefit to reskinning mechanics: you can use it as a GM! Low-level spellcasters are pretty worthless as enemy combatants; they have few hit points and fewer spells, and they're usually the first targets of the PCs. So, for my current game, I decided to avoid that problem entirely in at least one instance by reskinning a fighter as a mage. The practical upshot is that my enemy mage is more durable, can make more than one attack (if she gets the chance), and can have a different flavor than other spellcasters.

The downside is that since some equipment becomes spells (chain shirt becomes lesser warding, longsword becomes spirit slash, etc.), the treasure is on the low side, but I can compensate easily by adding additional loot that can be taken by the PCs. Furthermore, I can transform a simple longbow into a "sparkwand." It has the same damage, type, range, etc. as a longbow, and since I don't track normal ammunition, it can have unlimited charges. Now I have a unique magic item to hand out to my PCs, and I don't have to worry about it being any more unbalancing than a regular longbow.

So, next time you're trying to wedge a unique or complicated character into a rules-heavy system, whether it's a PC or an NPC, don't reinvent the wheel or dig through 39 rules supplements. Just find something that already fits the bill and reskin it.

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